Dhani Jones' three-year run with the Eagles ended yesterday when the team released the seven-year NFL veteran, a move that freed up $1.55 million in salary-cap room and amplified the team's belief that it has plenty of solid candidates to take over the strong-side linebacker position.
The Eagles considered replacing Jones, 29, last season when they drafted Chris Gocong, but the third-round selection out of Cal Poly Tech went down in training camp with what was described as "a stinger" and spent the entire season on injured reserve. Gocong will get another chance to play the position this season.
With the addition of Takeo Spikes, who was acquired in a trade from Buffalo, and the selection of Nebraska's Stewart Bradley in the third round of the draft over the weekend, the Eagles have a long list of candidates to play strong-side linebacker.
The list includes Torrance Daniels, an undrafted free agent who opened last season on the practice squad and was signed to the 53-man roster after quarterback Donovan McNabb was lost for the season to a knee injury.
Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowler, is likely to play a variety of linebacker positions in his first season with the Eagles.
There are no guarantees of playing time for Gocong, Daniels or Bradley, but coach Andy Reid made it clear over the weekend what he is looking for from his strong-side linebacker.
"We've got pretty good tight ends in this division here, so I think it's important that you cover those players in the pass game and at the same time be able to line up on their nose, and be able to sustain the line of scrimmage," Reid said after the Eagles drafted Bradley. "That combination is not an easy thing to do. Carlos Emmons did it very well for us, and what it does is give [defensive coordinator] Jim [Johnson] a couple of options that he can use."
Reid said Gocong and Bradley were "both big guys and they can line right up on the nose of the tight end, and we haven't been able to do that before."
Jones was signed as a free agent in 2004, the same off-season the Eagles acquired defensive end Jevon Kearse and wide receiver Terrell Owens. He held down the starting job at strong-side linebacker for the last three seasons and did not miss a game during that time.
But at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, he was not nearly as big or physical as Emmons, who spent four productive seasons as the Eagles' strong-side linebacker before joining the New York Giants as a free agent the same year that Jones left New York to play for the Eagles. The Giants, by the way, also recently released Emmons.
Gocong, who played defensive end in college, is 6-2 and 263 pounds. Bradley is 6-3 and 254 pounds, Spikes is 6-2 and 242, and Daniels is 6-3 and 248.
Free-agent signings. Former Moorestown High star Dereck Faulkner, a wide receiver from Hampton University in Virginia, was among the 11 undrafted free agents who agreed to sign with the Eagles, the team announced yesterday.
The list included defensive tackle Jeremy Clark from Alabama; wide receiver Zac Collie from Brigham Young; cornerback Nick Graham from Tulsa; guard Jacob Hobbs from Albany; linebacker Akeem Jordan from James Madison; defensive end Marques Murrell from Appalachian State; tackle Jonathan Palmer from Auburn; safety Marcus Paschal from Iowa; safety Chris Smith from Florida International; and guard Chris White from South Carolina.
Faulkner, 6-4 and 225 pounds, returned to the field last season at Hampton after missing the team's final five games in 2005 because of a fractured right leg. He caught 21 passes for 178 yards as a senior and finished his career with 75 catches for 1,017 yards and five touchdowns in 33 games.
Jordan, the linebacker from James Madison, probably had the most impressive resume among the Eagles' undrafted rookie signings. He was the defensive player of the year in the Atlantic Ten Conference and finished second in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given to the best defensive player in Division I-AA. Gocong won the Buchanan award in 2005. Jordan (6-1, 226) had 17 tackles for losses and 51/2 sacks last season for James Madison.
Clark, 6-3 and 309 pounds, was a four-year starter on Alabama's defensive line.
Collie (5-11, 187) caught 37 passes for 595 yards and four TDs in 20 career games at BYU.
Graham (5-10, 191) started 30 of the 50 games he appeared in at Tulsa, and registered 180 tackles and seven interceptions from his cornerback position.
Hobbs (6-3, 303) earned first- team all-Northeast Conference honors as a senior at Albany, the same school that produced the Eagles' sixth-round draft pick, safety Rashad Barksdale.
Murrell (6-2, 246) was a two-time Division I-AA all-American at Appalachian State, finishing his career with 36 sacks and a school-record 18 forced fumbles.
Palmer (6-4, 336) started 11 games at right guard for Auburn during his senior season.
Paschal (6-0, 201) had 199 tackles and three interceptions during his career as a safety at Iowa and earned second-team all-Big Ten honors last fall.
Smith (5-10, 215) finished his career at Florida International with 178 tackles, including 12 tackles for losses, while playing both safety positions.
White (6-3, 321) started 41 career games at center and guard for South Carolina.